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      Pensions, Medicaid squeeze Illinois budget

      By Benjamin Yount Illinois Statehouse News

      SPRINGFIELD â?? Illinois' local governments, parks, prisons and police officers are going to have to fight over the leftovers of Gov. Pat Quinn's budget proposal.

      "There is no new money for anything," said Quinn's Budget Director David Vaught on Tuesday night. "Everything but Medicaid and pensions will be squeezed."

      Vaught unveiled the governor's proposed budget Tuesday night, with Quinn expected to deliver the budget address to lawmakers Wednesday afternoon at the state Capitol.

      Quinn's proposed $33.9 billion state spending plan will include a $5.2 billion payment for public employee pensions, and $14 billion for human services, which includes Medicaid.

      The remaining $14 billion will be split between education and state government.

      Quinn's budget also proposes:

      Closing 14 state facilities, including two prisons and four developmental centers;Eliminating 1,474 state positions;Generating $110 million from 20,000 new video-gaming positions.

      Medicaid and pensions â??are putting the pressure on roads, on state parks, on school transportation," state Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet , said. "When you have Medicaid (going) from $5 billion to $10 billion in five years, that is putting all of the pressure on other things."

      Rose said this year alone, Illinois is going to spend at least $1 billion more on pensions.

      Vaught said the state is going to have to cut $2.7 billion to hold the line on Medicaid spending.

      Quinn, however is proposing to spare education from the budget ax.

      Quinn's Chief of Staff Jack Lavin said the governor will hold education funding steady, at $6,119 per student from elementary through high school.

      "The governor believes that jobs follow brain power," Lavin said. "And he wants to invest in education."

      But Hancock and McDonough County Regional Superintendent of Schools John Meixner said there is a difference between per pupil state aid and actual education spending.

      "Take a look at transportation money" for example, Meixner said. "Some of the schools have razor-thin budgets for transportation. Not only (is the state) so far behind in payments, but the payments that local schools are supposed to get were cut drastically."

      In the current budget, Quinn slashed transportation dollars in half, leaving $95 million for schools statewide to operate their buses and local transportation networks.

      Quinn, last year, proposed eliminating funding for Meixner and the other 43 regional superintendents. This year, the governor has planned to pay the regional superintendents from money that has been shared with local governments traditionally.

      State Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, said Quinn's spending plan is nearly $500 million more than the previous budget.

      "The idea that somehow fiscal responsibility has come to the Quinn administration is patently false," said Murphy, who acknowledged that much of that spending increase is going toward the pension payment.

      Republicans, including Murphy, have criticized Democrats for not making that payment in full in years past.

      State Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley , said Illinois lawmakers are going to have a short list of choices on how to cut state spending this year, and all of them will be difficult.

      "Last year was the easy year. This year is where it gets really hard," Mautino said. "Until you get into the structural deficit of Medicaid, you cannot fix anything we're doing here."